5 min read
by Meg Loughman | 09/08/2022
If you’ve been exploring ways to get more connected with your menstrual cycle, you’re not alone. From cycle charting to seed cycling, people have increasingly been tapping into practices that help them better understand their body’s natural rhythms. As we move throughout the phases of our menstrual cycle, our hormones fluctuate, and being aware of where we are in that cycle can help us to eat, exercise, and live more mindfully.
But mindful menstruation is nothing new — for centuries, menstruators have called upon traditions like Chinese Medicine to treat period symptoms and balance their hormones. Just ask wellness brand Elix, whose personalized herbal tinctures draw upon the ancient practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to heal menstrual cycle symptoms at the root.
To get some more insights on how to optimize your lifestyle to your cycle, we sat down with Elix’s Medical Advisor, Dr. Liem Le, as well as their founder Lulu Ge, to learn more about the TCM approach to menstrual healing.
Thinx: Lulu — as the company’s founder, what was your driving force and inspiration behind starting Elix?
Lulu Ge: I launched Elix in 2020, and my entire reason for creating this brand and community stemmed from my own roller coaster journey in trying to understand my hormone health and wanting more holistic, natural ways to heal. It felt like all of the societal conversations centered around birth control, painkillers, or ‘sucking it up’ as the only solutions, and I hated the side effects of birth control. Studies show hormonal contraceptives can have an impact on mood and be linked to increased rates of depression and breast cancer.
When I stopped taking birth control in 2016, I experienced debilitating menstrual pain during the most pivotal time in my career. Over-the-counter painkillers failed me, and my OBGYN advised me to go back on synthetic hormones, so I consulted my grandfather, who ran the hospital in Hunan, China, where I was born. He helped me find my way back to Chinese herbal medicine — which lowered my inflammation, rebalanced my cycle, and finally started healing my body at the root, from within.
By turning to TCM, I found safe, side-effect-free solutions for my menstrual pain and wanted to create a modern way to access this proven, ancient wisdom for anyone experiencing chronic pain. Fast forward to 2022, and we’re excited to be the first brand and platform to bring personalized TCM to women’s health. We have a free online health assessment that you can take to learn more about your cycle and receive an herbal treatment formula recommendation.
How does the Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal approach of healing menstrual ailments and hormonal imbalances differ from the way that Western medicine approaches it?
Dr. Liem Le: In TCM, we focus on a person's "pattern diagnosis" when treating menstrual ailments and hormonal imbalances. Pattern diagnosis can be thought of as your body's personality. It helps us implement strategies to address menstrual ailments. The results from pattern diagnosis help us dive deeper into menstruation specifics — such as the length of menstruation, size of clots, and color of the blood.
In addition to pattern diagnosis, Traditional Chinese Medicine also takes into consideration a person's total experience — such as digestion, quality of sleep, body temperature sensation (i.e. feels cold or feels warm), and psycho-emotional health. TCM is the ultimate definition of personalized medicine. Every person can experience a variety of symptoms that might differ from one another, so a one-size-fits-all approach, which is typically used in conventional medicine (e.g. NSAIDs for pain), doesn’t make sense.
Could you speak more about the personalization aspect of TCM?
Dr. Le: There's an old saying in TCM that goes, “yi bing tong zhi, tong bing yi zhi” — which simply means “one disease, different treatments; different diseases, one treatment.”In TCM, if three people are experiencing PMS, each of them may have experienced different symptoms and different severity levels, because each person is unique. In TCM, we aim to treat the root cause of the issue, which is not based on symptoms alone. We try to gather as much information from a person as possible — understanding what and why might be causing these imbalances in the body (e.g. stress, inflammation, diet, lifestyle, etc.). This, alongside 3,000 years of research, allows us to pinpoint the root cause that could be affecting the disharmony in the body. This then allows us to provide the most appropriate herbal combination to help put the body back into homeostasis.
From a TCM perspective, how can people holistically optimize their lifestyle to their menstrual cycle and hormonal fluctuations?
Dr. Le: In TCM, there are 4 phases of menstruation: Blood (Days 1-7), Yin (Days 7-14), Yang (Days 14-21), and Qi (Days 21-28). In the western view of menstruation, we also have the Menstrual, Follicular, Ovulatory, and Luteal phases.
In the blood phase, we want to focus on encouraging the free flow of Qi (known in TCM as the vital energy or life force in all living things) and blood. I recommend drinking soothing teas like chamomile, and limiting alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods. This is a great time to do some light exercise like yoga and meditation.
In the Yin phase, we want to encourage the replenishment and nourishment of blood in order to rebuild the uterine lining and develop the follicles. I recommend eating foods that help build blood such as beef, beets, and dark leafy greens. Adding in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso will help metabolize estrogen. You can start to increase the intensity of exercise to light cardio.
During the Yang phase, we want to warm and tonify the kidneys, strengthen the spleen, and resolve dampness by supporting the digestive system. I recommend eating foods that are high in antioxidants, and eating a mix of raw and cooked foods. If you have digestive issues, focus on eating cooked foods for easier digestion. I also recommend avoiding or limiting dairy. During this phase, you can increase to more high-intensity exercises.
In the final phase, we want to begin to stimulate the free flow of Qi, invigorate blood, and warm the uterus. This will help promote a smoother upcoming Blood phase through reduced PMS symptoms and pain. Start eating more leafy greens, grains such as quinoa, and edamame, and add magnesium-rich foods such as dark chocolate, spinach, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. In this phase, you will want to start dialing back to light to moderate exercise.
Most importantly, no matter the phases of menstruation: in TCM, we believe in the mind-body connection. Focusing on your emotions, expressing yourself, and allowing yourself to feel heard and acknowledged are critically important in supporting your body, no matter what it might be experiencing.
Lulu, how has the journey of starting Elix impacted the way you think about menstrual wellness? How you approach life based on your cycle in general?
LG: For too long, women’s health, particularly menstrual health, has been ignored by the healthcare industry. Women often have their pain dismissed by their doctors. According to our research, 98% of respondents experience menstrual pain and 57% have pain that keeps them from at least one day of activities per month. For too long, the only “solutions” to combat these symptoms have been hormonal contraception and pain medication.
My journey at Elix has only contributed to my frustration with the system. There is a lack of research in the space and women are all given the same treatment plans. Our mission is to empower every woman to be their own best healers. In order to do that, we need adequate research and dialogue around menstrual health.
On a personal level, I think of menstrual wellness as a broader movement to tune in to the wisdom of our cycles and what it’s revealing about the overall state of our bodies. Our periods are almost like a monthly “report card” of our hormone health, so by creating more time and space around our menstrual health, we can really improve how we feel every day of the month. We encourage our community members to build out rituals throughout the month — and to find “me time” during the day. That’s why I always like to take my herbs in the morning with my tea. It’s my menstrual wellness moment.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Are you familiar with using Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal remedies to help balance hormones or soothe your menstrual woes? Share your experience with us in the comments!
by Meg Loughman